Philippines keeps pandemic in mind in decision to accept Afghan refugees


Posted at Sep 02 2021 10:22 AM

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MANILA – The Department of Justice is still waiting for the directive of the Office of the President before it can act on accepting refugees from Afghanistan, an official said Thursday.

Thousands of Afghans are trying to flee their war-torn country after the Taliban took back control of the government in August.

Malacañang has said the Philippines is willing to receive asylum seekers from Afghanistan, but Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted that the Philippines will not accept nor listen to any proposition to accept any refugees unless it is government to government and only by their respective Foreign and Justice ministers.

Atty. George Ortha II, Refugee and Stateless Protection unit head at the Department of Justice, said the government’s main concern is how many refugees it can let in amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not just a simple case of taking in asylum seekers or refugees. Because of the sheer number of possible refuges from Afghanistan, it will take a whole of government or even a whole of nation approach,” he said.

Ortha said allowing Afghan refugees in the Philippines must be done “the right way.” 

“If we will take in hundreds or thousands of Afghan nationals, it’s really a big task for the Philippines. I’m not saying that we should not do it, but we have to do it the right way.”

“Otherwise it might create more problems in the future,” he said.

“We have to take into consideration the capacity also of the government. Once they are in the Philippines, where do we place them? How do we secure them? Even the basic needs of these applicants, how do we provide for them?”

Ortha added, however, that the Philippines is part of an emergency transit mechanism agreement with the United Nations and the International Office for Migration, whereby it can take in refugees whose application for asylum in other countries is still being processed.

“We will process the application, we’ll evaluate it and if we see that there’s merit to it then we will temporarily take them in the Philippines. At the very least they are already in a safe place while their application for asylum is being processed.”

Ortha said Afghans who may eventually reach the Philippines may also apply for asylum here.

He said applications for asylum are evaluated on the basis of some form of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution should the applicant go back to their country of origin or country of nationality.

“Without guaranteeing anything, there is a big possibility that the applications may be granted based on the situation in Afghanistan.”

Ortha said there are currently about 800 refugees in the Philippines. Around 500 applications are pending, he said.

--ANC, 2 September 2021